Around the Ring of Kerry, to Cahersiveen

The Old Barracks (Cahersiveen)

May 31st, 2016 (Part II)

The Ring of KerryKillorglin, Kerry

After my lovely lunch in Killarney, I catch the 279 bus west to Cahersiveen (Alternative spelling: Cahirciveen).  The ride is about an hour and 20 minutes along The Ring of Kerry (An Fáinne Chiarraí or An Mhór Chuaird roughly translated as ‘The Great Circuit’).  The bus passes over the bridge at Killorglin.  Sweet cottages line the roadsides outside of Glenbeigh. Idyllic homesteads can be seen overlooking the waterfront outside of Coolnaharragill.

Near Coolnaharragill, Ring of KerryThe Wild Atlantic Way

It becomes evident, that we are now traversing the Wild Atlantic Way! There isn’t a cloud in the sky as far as the eye can see, and Dingle Peninsula can be seeing clearly across the water. We drive past the roadside lookout, just outside of Mountain Stage and Drom and wind the bend towards Kells Bay, Cappamore. The N70 continues southwestward across the Iveragh Peninsula, alongside Cnoc na dTobar (Knocknadobar, Mountain of the Wells) to Cahersiveen.

Ring of Kerry

Cathair Saidhbhín  “Little Sadhbh’s stone ringfort”

The bus drops me off at the Cahersiveen fairgrounds, just off the main road. This quaint town is an excellent place from which to launch day trips and outdoor excursions. It’s packed with heritage, architectural and natural beauty. My hostel, The Sive, is across the street. I am greeted by the matronly hostess Mary and she shows me my dorm room, which I have all to myself this evening. Even though it is already late afternoon, the sun doesn’t set until 10pm, so I have lots of time to explore the town. I drop my bags off and grab my camera for a walk along the waterfront.  A sweet bird is basking on the warm pavement of Bridge Street. 

The Old Barracks

I follow the street to The Old Barracks.  First built in the early 1870s, the building housed the Royal Irish constabulary.  The building’s imposing stance and police presence therein provided protection to the Irish end of the Transatlantic Telephone Cable (1858). With local uprisings and conflicts (including the first shots fired during the Fenian Uprising of 1867), authorities feared the newly connected link to the New World could be severed. The building was destroyed by fires and rebuilt in 1991. I wander around to the back of the building. The Barracks Museum is just closing for the evening and I chat with the man running the place. He tells me a bit about the town, the story of meeting his Canadian wife and suggests I come back to see the museum tomorrow. He jokingly mentions that if I’m able to bring some Timbits (small, infamous, Canadian doughnuts) I can get in for free. Apparently Ireland’s doughnut selection is incredibly lacklustre compared to Canadian fare.

Cnoc na dTobar

I ask the man at the Museum about hiking in the area and he points out the mountain across the bridge.  He explains that there is a pilgrimage hiking trail to the Celtic cross at the top.  The pilgrim path up Cnoc na dTobar has been in use since Medieval times. It is a site of devotion to St Fursey (c 597-650AD). I debate trying to climb the peak, but it just won’t fit into my packed schedule this time around. I’ve got other plans.

Cahersiveen Waterfront

I head off along the waterfront, enjoying the views, across the River Fertha, of places I will be visiting in the days to come, including Ballycarberry Castle. I pass a school with a yellow tower and a small subdivision of tidy waterfront homes. The waterfront path comes to an end at a mucky beach just past the marina. Sheep graze nearby, aside the ruins of an old stone house or barn.

The Old Abbey of the Holy Cross

I head away from the water, and up a curved street into the town.  As I near The Old Abbey of the Holy Cross, I hear children laughing and playing in the ruins. I decide to explore the old walls and grave markers as well. There is no steeple on the Abbey, due to strict laws of the Penal Times. Roman Catholic worship was severely restricted during 1695 and 1829 by the Protestant ruling class.  One of the penal laws prohibited any Catholic Church to have a steeple or bell.  The early evening sunbeams glisten off the old brick. Daniel O’Connell’s parents are buried on these grounds. The remains of Lt. Philip Primrose can also be found here, housed in this small stone crypt.  He died at age 31, when his boat capsized in the Cahersiveen harbour.

The Holy Well

Not too far from the Abbey, I discover an alcove between two house off Main street, with a sign reading Tobar na Croiche Naofa, The Well of the Holy Cross.  From the early Medieval times, water has been seen as a sacred element with certain wells having curative powers. Although many wells have pre-Christian history, they have since been dedicated to local Saints and rituals are performed involving token offerings, making rounds and making the sign of the cross as well as drinking the water to cure many ailments. The Tobar na Croiche Naofa is a natural spring, while other wells are simply hollows cut in rock where water naturally pools. A ‘modern’ pump also stands in front of the well. Rounds and patterns (religious rituals) still occasionally occur at this well, by those on pilgrimage.

Daniel O’Connell

I pop in Willie’s Off Licence,  a shop selling an impressive collection of craft beer and other alcoholic bevvies. I always try and find the local brew, and I get one from Killarney named after the Scarlet Pimpernel, who is buried in the graveyard right across the street at the Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church. Not a saint or deity, Daniel O’Connell was a statesman, passionate in human rights, who worked to emancipate Catholicism by way of mass movement of people in the 17th and 18th centuries.  He’s the only layman to have a church named and built for him! The church received special papal permission to do so. Daniel was a source of inspiration for human rights advocates around the world, including Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King and even Mahatma Ghandi. Two floors of the Barracks Museum commemorate the life of Daniel O’Connell!

The Scarlet Pimpernel

Back to the Scarlet Pimpernel: Born and buried in Cahersiveen, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty ran a network to help Jews and Allied Pilots escape Nazi persecution during World War II. Aiding approximately 4000 people and narrowly escaping capture himself, he obtained notoriety and a helluva nickname, The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican. The film The Scarlet and the Black tells his story.

It’s time for dinner and finally being on the West Coast, I want to have some fish and chips. I stop in Kevy’s Fast Food Take Away, as I was told that if I mention that I am staying at the hostel, I will get a small discount.

Dinner with a View

Back at the hostel, I sit on the balcony patio and enjoy my deep fried meal and wash it down with the delicious Kerry brew.  It’s a beautiful place to enjoy my evening meal, as the sun sets over the River Fertha, Valentia Bay and the Atlantic beyond. I admire the stone house in the backyard, a private accommodation of the hostel.

I chat with a fellow hosteller, a Dutch woman on holiday.  She is walking the Kerry Way, while her husband is on vacation somewhere on a warm beach.  She craves adventure for her holidays and can’t imagine just laying about for 2 weeks straight, so she and her husband amicably take separate vacations.  I admire her journey: hiking 10 hours a day with a heavy pack across some of the most gorgeous countryside and challenging terrain. Perhaps one day I will make that trek.

Tomorrow is a little different, we are both rising early to get a lift from a boat captain to the harbour at Portmagee. We will be hitting the ocean waves and travelling to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Skellig Michael! It took months of planning to get here. I am so excited, stay tuned for the next blogpost!

In the meantime, enjoy this folksong about the Cahersiveen Fenians who fought for Irish Independence. Click the title to hear the song, or just read the poetry and view more images from my evening below.

Fenians of Cahirciveen

I am a bold Fenian from Cahirciveen
That late took my gun for to fight for the green
O’er mountains and woodlands, I wandered along
Now I’ll leave it alone and commence up my song
We marched to Kells station that lies near the strand
Where the sea rushes in with wild waves to the land
And then you may say we had courage golore
When Kells station was taken by the boys of Filemore

We were proud of our country and our heroes so brave
And we spurned the false counsel that’s given by the slave
Who would sell his own country for comfort and gold
Who would spy on his brothers, the Fenians so bold
But the warm hand of friendship forever is seen
In the soldiers of Ireland who fight for the green
Who scorn for the tyrant, their heads to bend low
Who strike dumb with terror, the false Saxon foe

We spurned all their jails and their turnkeys as well
As to turncoat informers, we’d sure give them hell
For we feared neither jail, nor the scaffold on high
And we’d sworn for ould Ireland, to conquer or die
As to buckshot and powder, we’d plenty in store
And in deep, secret places, munitions golore
There were no men more feared by the troops of the Queen
Than the bould hearted Fenians of Cahirciveen

We were loved by young women, both buxom and strong
In their red-flannel petticoats singing a song
In their shawls and their bodices neatly arrayed
With their beautiful forms so correctly displayed
Who would stir any man to great exploits of fame
To win for ould Ireland, a true honoured name
To fight for their honour before any Queen
Like the true-hearted Fenians of Cahirciveen

We marched all along and our guns we did load
We then met a policeman, on horse-back he rode
We asked him to surrender but the answer was “No”
And a ball from young Conway soon levelled him low
Away we marched on and our guns did reload
We met Father Meegan and for him low we bowed
He gave us his blessing saying “God be your friend
In the battle of Freedom on which you are bent”

Come shoulder your arms, come march and obey
But alas, we were beaten all on the next day
Our plans were found out by some dirty old spy
And on Captain Moriarty, they did cast an eye
Moriarty came in on the mail car next day
To lead all our brave boys to join in the fray
To our greatest surprise, he was marched into jail
Which left us in sorrow our loss to bewail

’Gainst their grape shot and cannon we fought to the last
’Spite their bayonets and red coats we stuck to our mast
Tho’ the peelers may march with their battering ram
For their batons and law, sure we don’t give a damn
And their bailiffs may come, hedged around by cold steel
But one charge from our boys would make traitor heads reel
For the cleanest of fighters that ever were seen
Were the true-hearted Fenians of Cahirciveen

Then it’s off thro’ the mountains we all took our course
Our stomachs being slack and we had but bad clothes
We were in a number about sixty strong
Surrounded by red coats for something went wrong
Then hurrah for the Fenians of Cahirciveen
No bolder nor braver in Erin was seen
No soldiers more true to the banner of green
Than the true-hearted Fenians of Cahirciveen


wanderer, adventurer, dreamer

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